ALS: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

By now you have probably heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge, seen a few of your friends take the challenge, or perhaps have even taken it yourself. It’s certainly a fun way to promote awareness around ALS, however many are getting caught up in the hype behind the #IceBucketChallenge without being fully aware of what the disease is.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. Death usually results an average of 5 years after diagnosis.

In the Northwest, we have a special advocate for ALS, former pro football player and Spokane native, Steve Gleason. Gleason attended and played football for Gonzaga Prep, WSU, and eventually went on to be most remembered for his blocked punt on the night the New Orleans Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, Steve was diagnosed with ALS. Steve is determined to inspire others by continuing to pursue life adventures despite his diagnosis, and has challenged the worlds of technology and science to identify their most promising developments toward new treatments and a cure.

While the Ice Bucket Challenge may have a limited shelf life as a viral campaign, ALS is an ongoing disease and awareness needs to continue.

by Matt Grebe, Communications Specialist